Metalflake Memories – Jeff Ludwig’s Mild Custom 1955 Chevy is a Family Heirloom
Survivor rods and customs can be like archeology projects. As you investigate and remove the dust from layers of modifications and updates, you uncover not only an evolution in styles and trends, but also insights into the lives of previous owners. Jeff Ludwig’s mild custom 1955 Chevy is a good example of this but is just a little bit cooler because it represents decades of Ludwig family history.
Jeff’s father, Bob, originally bought the Bel Air back in 1974. The Chevy was already customized, wearing brown paint and a variety of body mods that likely dated back to the late-’50s or early-’60s. This included frenched ’56 Buick taillights (a relatively common ’50s modification), shaved emblems, deleted front fender and vertical quarter panel trim, and a floating grille bar with ’53 Chevy teeth. It also had a black vinyl interior with 1-inch rolls and pleats, complete with a rolled-and-pleated headliner, plus a 270hp 283c.i. Corvette engine. Cool stuff!
Bob owned a body shop and, in keeping with the times, he decided to update the Chevy with a Corvette stinger-style hood scoop and green paint in the mid-’70s. A few years later he stripped off the green paint and the car languished in primer for a few years while the body shop business got busy. He finally got around to spraying some color on the Chevy in 1984, laying down a brilliant red metalflake finish buried under 26 coats of lacquer clear. Finished off with Tru-Spoke wire wheels, the ’55 fit right in to the early-’80s street machine scene.
The custom 1955 Chevy remained in that configuration for the next several decades, getting minor updates like five-spoke wheels and a 327c.i. small block in place of the ’Vette 283. In the meantime, Jeff grew up and eventually started his own business, Ludwig’s Custom Auto in Denver, Pennsylvania. Naturally, Jeff also built some cool cars of his own, including a mild custom ’52 Chevy, a chopped ’50 Ford, and a ’55 Chevy two-door post. He also bought and freshened up a chopped, traditional-style ’39 Ford coupe.
In 2014, Bob decided it was finally time to sell the red ’flake ’55. The decision hit Jeff pretty hard – after 40 years, the car was basically like part of the family. Jeff quickly decided to sell his own ’55 Chevy so he could purchase the Bel Air from his father and keep this heirloom in the family.
“When I got the car, I wanted it to look true to a late-’50s/early-’60s custom,” Jeff said. “So, I customized a new hood and painted it, lowered it, and put on some red rims, whitewalls, and spinner caps.”
You read that right – Jeff color-matched 30-year-old metalflake on the hood, leaving the rest of the paint on the body intact. Olds Fiesta hubcaps and 15-inch Coker wide whitewalls helped capture the vintage look Jeff was after. He had Dick Gerwer reupholster the black rolled and pleated interior to match what had been done decades before, but that headliner is still original to the 1970 trim job! Other details like a ’59 Impala wheel, Hurst shifter, and column-mounted Stewart-Warner tach all contribute to the period vibe, as does the pinstriping on the dash, which was originally done in 1975. The only incongruous element is the 8-track tape player, but it’s so well-integrated that Jeff can’t bring himself to remove it.
Jeff has continued to refine and detail the Chevy over the past few years, with a keen eye toward that classic custom era. “Early in 2019, I removed the front end, detailed the engine compartment, metalflaked the firewall and door jambs, and had my brother Steve build a 283 to clone the Corvette engine that was in the car when dad bought it,” Jeff said. The engine includes period components like a Duntov solid-lifter cam, Mallory dual-point distributor, dual Carter WCFB carbs, and finned Corvette valve covers. It sends power through a Muncie four-speed to a 4.11-geared Posi rearend equipped with ’60s-era traction bars.
It’s cool to think that a car with 35-year-old paint and many other older elements can still attract the sort of attention Jeff’s ’55 Chevy garners. In a world where so many Tri-five Chevys seem to be either stock-bodied resto-mods or ultra-high-end showpieces, Jeff’s custom 1955 Chevy is a fun reminder of an era when tasteful mods, a hot small-bock, and nice paint could help a street-driven custom stand apart from the pack. Even better for Jeff, this Bel Air represents family traditions and memories that fire to life every time he turns the key.
Photos by the Author